Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century

I see it everywhere. People in all walks of life are developing an interest in being more self sufficient. Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's a desire for a more simple, traditional life. Maybe it's a longing to be more in tune with nature. But whether you live in the city and want to grow food on your rooftop, live in the suburbs and want to raise chickens, or live in the country and want to make your property a small farm, Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century by father/son writing duo Dick and James Strawbridge, offers lots of inspiration, both in the writing and in the abundant full color photos.

No single book on self sufficiency can be entirely adequate for the curious mind, but what I really enjoyed about the Strawbridge's book is their writing comes from practical experience. For many years, they've owned and operated Newhouse Farm in Cornwall, England, and I loved getting a peak at what works for them - from their electricity-producing water wheel, to their rainwater harvesting system, to their gorgeous and practical garden, to their critters. And while their book is clearly modeled after John Seymour's classic The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It (read my review of Seymour's book here), Strawbridge's book is more practical for modern life.

The book begins by considering the basics of self sufficiency: Food, shelter, and energy. Throughout, we get glimpses of life at Newhouse Farm, but the authors also offer ideas and illustrations for being more self sufficient in an urban and suburban setting. Next, we settle in to ideas about how to make our homes more energy efficient, including using passive solar gain (basically, large windows facing south), and heat recovery. There's even brief information on building earth homes or houses lined with straw bales. Energy options are next, and an introduction to many possibilities is included. Their view of solar energy is realistic, but they offer ideas about where it can be useful. They even offer basic instructions for building a solar shower. They also cover wind and water energy in fair detail; at Newhouse, they use a combination of all these energy sources. In addition, there are ideas for safe rainwater usage, compost toilets, and making and using biofuel.

The next section of the book covers gardening, and while the techniques used at Newhouse seem pretty traditional, the authors offer some ideas on forest gardens, no dig gardening, and growing plants only in water (hydroponics). They offer all the info needed to start traditional composting - and they include a method of composting cooked meat, fish, and dairy products. There's even a page detailing how to make an all natural, balanced fertilizer from comfrey, a type of herb. The authors also offer an intelligent chart for rotating crops, as well as information on using a greenhouse, hoop house, and cold frame, gardening in urban areas, building a raised bed, doing worm composting, sowing seeds, and basic but useful information on growing various types of vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

The next section is most useful for those with land. It offers insights into working large areas, including making natural boundaries, growing fodder for animals, storing large amounts of crops, and managing wooded areas. Lessons in animal husbandry are offered next, and while the information is brief (8 pages tops per type of animal), it's pretty informative. If you want to begin raising hens, for example, you'll find all the necessary information on how to begin: How to buy, offering housing, watering, feeding, making a hen tractor, increasing your flock, and butchering the birds. There are also sections on turkeys, geese and ducks, pigs, sheep, goats, bees, and cows. A very brief section also mentions wild game and fish, offering illustrated instructions on skinning, drawing, and butchering a rabbit.

For those new to preserving food, the next section of the book offers an overview. The authors cover making butter, yogurt, cream, cheese, and bread; pickling; preserves; drying herbs, vegetables, and fruit (mostly by solar means); curing meat and fish; smoking (including making smokers); and making hard cider, beer, and wine. Unfortunately, there are a few odd-ball statements, like: "Preserving vegetables at home by canning is not advisable...Our advice is to only can fruit, and preserve your vegetables by freezing them," but since this book isn't a canning manual, one hopes readers will look elsewhere for thorough canning information.

The least helpful part of the book, in my opinion, is the section on "natural remedies." The information seems much too vague to me. For example, there are instructions on making "revitalizing infusions" - just for general health, I suppose. Specific information on using herbs and plants to treat ailments is absent entirely. Finally, there is a brief section on "green cleaners," like baking soda and vinegar, and a section offering very basic information on working with wood, basketry, and similar skills.

It is important to remember that Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century isn't the place to learn how to do everything mentioned in the book. Rather, it's a place from which to draw workable ideas, learn the basics of important skills, and learn from two men who live an essentially self sufficient life. After reading this book, I think you'll be inspired to do further research into how you can live a more self sufficient life.

For those who dream of owning a small farm or those wanting to find ways to make life in the suburbs or country side more simple and self sufficient, this book is an great addition to the bookshelf.

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